Archive of ‘Support’ category

Teaching Kids to be Strong Problem Solvers

It started with just a few questions. “Why do I have to go to preschool? Why do you have to go to work? Why can’t I have a babysitter stay home with me?” To these, as I was bustling about the kitchen getting dinner pulled together, I answered in a matter of fact and validating way. “Preschool gets you ready for kindergarten and allows you to play with friends and grow your brain. I also miss you and wish I could be home with you. And, I love teaching my students and I feel passionate about the work I am doing.”

She wasn’t buying it.

The insisting got more intense until she was so worked up I started to wonder (and worry) especially when she said she did NOT want to go… at all. For a child that generally loved her school, this was the final sign so I asked, 

“Did something happen?” From there it spilled out: during the quiet nap time, the teachers didn’t allow students to use the bathroom, and if they asked, the whole classroom was punished.

Um.  What?????

In her four year old way, she described this rule, and how conflicted and uncomfortable she was with a) not being able to go to the bathroom and b) the social repercussions of any action on her part during this time. Obvi. So, clearly the solution was just to never go back.

At this point I had a few options. First, I could tell her I am SURE that is not the rule, and that with a swift (curt) email to the teacher I would have it cleared up by tomorrow and her bladder would be free. Or…

I could use this as an empowering learning opportunity.

Jane Nelsen and Lynn Lott, from Teaching Parenting the Positive Discipline Way, give this definition of empowering: “Turning control over to young people as soon as possible so they have power over their own lives.”

We all want our kids to grow up to have a long list of life skills that will help them be successful as adults. We make this list together in my Positive Discipline classes and each time, the list looks so similar. Skills like responsible, independent, passionate, assertive, happy…these help to guide our teaching when we are trying to solve challenges with our kids. So in this moment, if I used the  magic wand to make it all go away, I would have missed an opportunity to add to that skill building.

Enabling = “getting between young people and life experiences to minimize the consequences of their actions.”  – Lott, Nelsen

Rescuing, fixing, bailing them out, doing too much for them, it all falls under that enabling category. The 10pm email to the teacher also falls in that category. You know the one, where you are so exhausted by how upset your child was and what a nightmare evening you had dealing with whatever issue happened at school that day (per your kiddo), so you take it all out on the teacher in an email to feel like you have some control.

By choosing instead to empower, I wasn’t going to abandon her, but I was going to show up with confidence in her capability. It was also going to take a little more time.

We discussed it as a family more at dinner, using curiosity questions to dig deeper. I still could not believe that it was actually the rule, (what preschool teacher does NOT want kids to use the bathroom?)  yet I knew in HER mind it was her perspective and interpretation, so there really was no arguing that point. We were going to have to really play it out.

“Can’t you just talk to the teacher?” she begged me. “It’s not my problem,” I replied, “I can go to the bathroom whenever I want.” She looked at me horrified. I went on, “This feels like such a big problem to you. It feels unfair. It would feel unfair to me too! We are here to help you. Let’s practice what you can say to your teacher tomorrow.”

We called all hands on deck and she started to relax surrounded by her cheering section. She took turns being the teacher and herself in the role play, practicing how to start with a greeting and request to discuss the problem and then how to assertively state “I feel confused by this rule and it feels unfair.” Her confidence grew and by tuck in time I thought we were really in the clear. Then the panic set in.

“Mama, what if this problem is never solved? What if it doesn’t work?”

Here, too, I wanted to just ease her mind, ensure her that everything would be ok. I also wanted to make all that time we had spent building up capability worth it. So instead I took her hand and said, “Here’s the deal. It might not be solved tomorrow. It might not work right away. And that is ok. Because when you come home, we will brainstorm another solution and practice and try something else until it is solved. I won’t give up and neither will you.”

Fortunately, I did not do the drop off in the morning. I might have caved. Instead, I watched the clock and winced right around naptime, then braced myself when I went into the classroom to pick her up after work.

Unexpectedly, she came running around the corner. Her face was beaming. “Mama mama! I solved my problem!” It was THAT moment that made it allllll worth it. The pride, independence, confidence and capability shone. Priceless. Her teacher immediately joined her, falling over herself to tell me that OF COURSE they are allowed to go to the bathroom and what a misunderstanding, but how brave of my daughter to bring it up. The teachers hadn’t realized the confusion from all the students. This led to a class meeting and greater discussion. She ended with explicitly thanking me for allowing this learning opportunity. 

Six years later,  I think of that day often. It gave me the courage and mindset to put in the intention and energy on days I didn’t think I had it. When it would have been easier to overprotect or rescue. When I see the payoff, in my responsible, independent, happy, confident ten year old, I know it is worth it.

It takes courage to teach courage.

Empowering can and should look different in families, depending on the age, stage of development and your own values. What makes YOUR little one beam with confidence? And what kind of practice do they need to get there? Is there a small step they need to learn first?

Lott and Nelsen describe these empowering responses:

  • Listening and giving emotional support and validation without fixing or discounting. 
  • Teaching life skills. 
  • Working on agreements through family meetings or the joint problem-solving process. 
  • Letting go (without abandoning). 
  • Deciding what you will do with dignity and respect
  • Sharing what you think, how you feel, and what you want (without lecturing, moralizing, insisting on agreement, or demanding that anyone give you what you want). 
  • Sticking to the issues with dignity and respect.

 Learn how to be solution focused, teach important life skills and find the joy in everyday moments.  Purchase your How To Grow Remarkable Kids online series today, and experience Positive Discipline through videos of real families practicing the tools.

Julietta is a Certified Positive Discipline Advanced Trainer with an Ed.S Degree in School Psychology and a Masters Degree in School Counseling from Seattle University. She is the co-founder of Sproutable, science backed online parenting insights for pregnancy to preschool, helping multitasking and sleep deprived parents everywhere. 

Her trauma informed expertise includes early child development, autism, learning disabilities, anxiety, behavior disorders, Positive Discipline, Social Thinking and mindfulness.  Her popular keynote speeches, classes and workshops in Seattle have been described as rejuvenating, motivating and inspiring. Julietta has learned the most from her own three daughters.


Grief, Family, and the Holidays

Holidays can be difficult for a variety of reasons; after all, the holiday season can bring up all kinds of feelings. This can be especially difficult when your family has suffered a loss of any kind. It’s a time when families often get together, thereby making losses more noticeable. Tensions between family members may already be high, and there is often a wealth of memories tied to the holidays, both joyful and difficult. The holidays can be painful reminders as well as an opportunities to reminisce, strengthen relationships, and revive old traditions or create new ones.

Everyone is Different

Just as everyone in your family has their own personality and ways of dealing with stress, people often grieve differently. Grief sometimes comes in waves, and may seem delayed for some people, especially children. It’s not something we get over or move on from, but we do move forward. We incorporate the loss into our life story, and may make meaning of that loss in different ways. We may feel the grief less often or less intensely, but it doesn’t go away completely. Children may grieve differently too, depending on where they are developmentally. They may also experience various aspects of the loss, or grieve again, as they reach new developmental stages. 

Navigating Traditions and Rituals

One thing the holiday season invites is tradition. When someone who was part of a yearly ritual or tradition dies, that inevitably changes our experience of it. Just as individuals and families grieve in different ways, family members may have varying ideas about what to do with those traditions. Questions about changing or skipping traditions may arise. While family members may disagree about how to move forward, it is important to let everyone express their feelings, thoughts, concerns, and hopes. Discuss which activities the family wants to keep, which to skip, and what could be added. Is there a way the family can honor the person who has died, knowing that things won’t ever be the same as they were? When possible, give children choices about whether or not to participate. 

Taking Care of Yourself

Taking care of yourself doesn’t have to be time consuming or expensive. Take 5 minutes to yourself to breathe, have a cup of tea, or simply be alone. Get coffee with a friend who gets you. Be gentle with yourself—the holidays are full of reminders, both of what you have and who you have lost—give yourself permission to grieve, to cry, to laugh, to enjoy those around you. Whatever you are feeling is okay! It’s also okay to set the boundaries you need, whether that’s by doing less, choosing who to spend your time with, or skipping an event altogether. Listen to your body—try to get the rest you need, stay hydrated, and move if you can. 

“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly–that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.” Anne Lamott

Resources

If you are struggling and would like additional support, the following organizations offer groups and other grief and loss resources.

The Christi Center

Austin Center for Grief and Loss

Hospice Austin

By: Magdalen Marrone, LCSW

How to Start a Mindfulness Practice

…for the people who are already rolling their eyes at the thought of it

Before we get started, I have a confession. It wasn’t that long ago that I was eye-rolling at the practice of mindfulness. I didn’t get it and it seemed to me, in my overwhelmed and often flooded state of mind, that anyone who thought mindfulness was going to do anything for me had no idea the type of stress I was under. Part of what made it feel out of touch was that it sounded unrealistic. I had a distinct picture in my head of what mindfulness was and who practiced it. That visual image was so far away from where I was starting that I couldn’t grasp how it could apply to me or my life. 

It’s been through my own journey that I have found: Mindfulness is unavoidable for those of us on the path to greater peace and groundedness in our lives. And in fact, those of us who don’t have time for mindfulness or think it doesn’t apply to us, might be the ones who need it the most. 

This blog is for anyone who eye-rolls at the very thought of mindfulness, anyone who doesn’t get it, and anyone who is curious but doesn’t know where to start.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is simply the practice of coming into the present moment. The challenge is that while our bodies live in the present moment 100% of the time, our thoughts and emotions rarely do. Our thoughts and feelings (arguably our defining human experience) are often rooted in the past or the hypothetical future. We spend most of our time processing events that have happened or ruminating on ones to come. The consequence for these habits are well-documented, as a quick google search on mindfulness will show. For the sake of keeping it straight forward, I’ll sum it up as this: It doesn’t feel good and it is incompatible with peace, joy, and gratitude.

The practice of mindfulness is like an antidote or a release valve. Do you have a pressure cooker? If you do, you know this moment. That’s effectively what a mindfulness practice does for our emotional, mental, and physical state. Mindfulness is the skill to hit reset from the busy-ness and the pressures of life.

Alright, that’s all fine and well, you say, but give me something tangible here. How do I practically incorporate mindfulness into my life? I’m glad you asked. Here are five simple places to begin.

1. Tune into your breath.

The most simple mindfulness practice is intentional breathing. Our breath is a metronome for our lives and most of the time, we don’t give it much thought. Intentional breathing is one of the easiest and most adaptable practices for coming into the present moment. For the sake of full transparency, I’m basically constantly practicing mindful breathing. In line at the grocery store? Yep. Driving? Yep. In session? You betcha. Writing this blog? Yes. It is incredible how easily our breath goes to auto-pilot and how healing it can be to reconnect with it.

When you’re feeling overwhelmed, try pausing and simply asking yourself, “Where is my breath right now?” 

  • Notice if your breath is shallow, fast, or choppy. See if you can slow and smooth the rhythm of your breath just a little.
  • Are you exhaling? Extend your exhales a little longer. See if you can exhale the tension from your chest or release any holding in your shoulders.
  • Try to direct your breath to your belly. As if you have a book rested on your stomach, try to gently move the book up and down. 

Give it 3-5 breath cycles (one inhale/exhale = one cycle). Within just a few cycles, you may notice feeling more grounded and calm. Notice what shifts in your experience by tuning into your breath. Our perspective can change subtly by re-connecting to our breath, and the ripple effect of the shift will have significant benefits. 

You can also check out visual breathing exercises like this video and this video

2. Go Outside.

If you have a couple of moments, step outside. Stand or sit in silence for just a couple of minutes. A great mindfulness hack is to connect with your senses (more to come on this with #4). If the weather is nice, connect with the earth by kicking off your shoes and standing barefoot on the grass. 

  • What do you hear?
  • What do you see?
  • What do you smell?
  • What do you feel?
  • What do you taste? (Okay, that one is kind of weird. But maybe!)

If you can’t get outside, go to a window. Just notice what is happening. It amazes me every time I pause and look at the nature around me. Have you noticed that trees are constantly moving? The leaves never stop moving. It’s incredible. Stand and ponder the subtle movement of nature around you. It will connect you to the present moment and get you out of your head.

You can learn more about the benefits of the outdoors in this blog by my colleague, Amber Jekot.

3. Don’t look at social media for the first hour upon waking tomorrow.

This tip is super directive and it’s all about strengthening intentionality. Give it a shot. Notice how your mood and perspective changes when you don’t immediately hop on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook (or whatever is your social media platform of choice!). Social media is great, but it can also trigger a domino effect of negativity. More than that, it immediately pulls you out of the present. After the first hour of being awake, intentionally make the choice about when and how you want to engage with social media.

How does your day start differently by making this mindful choice up front?

4. Engage your senses.

Engaging your senses is one of the easiest ways to come back to the present moment. The ideas here are endless and it can be quite a bit of fun to find new ways to use your senses mindfully. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

  • Essential oils are having their day in the sun and for good reason. Create essential oil rollers with just a few supplies. All you need is a bottle, a carrier oil, and your favorite essential oil. I’m personally loving lavender and peppermint combined right now! Roll the oil on your temples, the back of your neck, or your wrists throughout the day. The scent does not last long, but each time you become aware of it, it is like a little reminder to slow down, reconnect with yourself, and breathe. You can also diffuse your essential oils if you really want to go all in.
  • Weighted or fuzzy blankets feel comforting and safe. While you probably don’t have time for a nap, you can easily wrap yourself up in a blanket, breathe for a couple of minutes, and then write that email. The next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, try wrapping yourself in your favorite blanket and notice what happens.
  • Drink a glass of cold water. Drinking cold water might be my oldest mindfulness tool. Many years ago, a co-worker of mine (hey, Jola!) noticed that I drank more water on days when I was under higher stress. In fact, she named it before I realized I was doing it. My physical body was soothed by drinking cold water, and the irony is that my brain did not fully realize that’s what I was doing – but it was! The next time it all feels like too much, pause and have a glass of water. Notice any subtle shifts before you get back to the grind.

5. Meditation podcasts.

Alright, bear with me. I’m not about to suggest you take up full blown meditation (but maybe one day!). I get that meditation may feel like the furthest available tool from where you are today. But I am going to suggest that you give a guided meditation podcast a try-on. My favorite time to listen to a meditation podcast is while I’m driving. I am cracking up at myself just writing that. Use caution. You obviously need to be alert on the road, etc., but having someone direct your breathing at a time when you might otherwise be at the height of rumination on any moment but the present one is an incredibly helpful tool! 

My favorite meditation podcast is Guided Meditations by One Mind Dharma. You can find their podcast easily, however you access your podcasts. You can also check out two of my favorite episodes on YouTube. 

If you aren’t so sure about my tip while driving (ha!), other times you could listen that don’t require stillness: Walking the dog, washing dishes, folding clothes, or in the shower. Check them out and feel what happens. 

Summing it up.

Mindfulness, in short, is anything that brings you back to the present moment. If it pulls you out of the storm of thoughts and feelings you’re experiencing, even if only for a couple of seconds, it is a mindfulness tool. 

Mindfulness is not magic. It is a skill and it needs to be sharpened. It takes consistency and intentionality, but it does not take an abundance of time or resources. While you are building your mindfulness practice, it is important to notice any shifts you experience. Those subtle shifts are what builds the momentum. 

After each mindfulness intervention (for example, drinking a glass of cold water), pause to observe any physical, mental, or emotional changes. 

  • What cognitively changes for you? 
  • How does your perspective or outlook shift? 
  • How do you emotions change? 
  • What physical differences do you notice? 

The benefits are there, but you have to notice them. Your ability to detect those shifts will strengthen each time you mindfully engage with yourself.

If you are curious to learn more about the science behind mindfulness, The Body Keeps Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk is a thorough resource. If you want to take your mindfulness practice to the next level, No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering by Thich Nhat Hanh is an incredible guide.

You can also connect with me on instagram (after you’ve been awake for an hour) @counselingandyoga or via email at [email protected] 

Written by: Katy Manganella, LPC-Intern
Supervised by Susan Gonzales, LPC-S, LMFT-S

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